Leadership Spotlight with Pratyush Kohli, Head of Compliance & Risk, Zalando SE

KPP Search interviewed Pratyush Kohli to give us an encouraging and interesting insight into his role as Head of Compliance & Risk, Zalando SE.

His educational background gave him a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Delhi in India. He also has a Master’s in Business Administration from Amity Business School, India.

Pratyush started his professional journey with the Big Four firms working for clients across industries. His role included working with manufacturing hubs in India’s heartland to football clubs in the UK. The opportunities to work for some of the most valuable brands across the world built his technical toolkit and also helped him find his passion in the consumer goods space, which resulted in him joining adidas.

After a brief hiatus from the industry back in consulting at Bain & Company, Pratyush found himself once again in the consumer goods space in his current role at Zalando.

He discovered that his behavioural elements progressed and developed through constant self-reflection, listening well, exercising vulnerability, and learning from failures. In his recent roles, he’s also been involved in multiple inclusion initiatives, either as a D&I ambassador or by leading efforts for racial and social equity initiatives in Germany.

He reveals that this helped him widen his perspective, which added to his learning experiences and offered him an opportunity to make the workplace more inclusive. He adds that though they are inclusive by design at Zalando, many companies still have a long way to go in championing inclusivity.

Pratyush says that while working in the audit, risk, and compliance space sounds uninteresting to many, it is anything but that. In recent years, the profession has evolved towards actively steering the business by managing risk and isolating uncertainty in strategic decisions. He loves that working in this space helps him to zoom out, look at the bigger picture, and then zoom back in to solve the problems on the ground. Moreover, every day is a new day as he faces different challenges, which keeps the job interesting.

Pratyush starts his days with a run or a workout. After a glance at the inbox, his mornings are all about filtering out distractions and ensuring he does 1-2 hours of focused work. Mid mornings and early afternoons are often taken up by meetings and calls before returning to focus hour(s). Writing and responding to emails is usually at the end of the workday.

What would he change about his profession? He says he’s been lucky to work in organizations where governance functions are not just a ‘check in the box’. However, unfortunately, many companies still see it that way. Accountability and sponsorship at the executive level are pivotal to the success of these programs, and companies need to recognize their value in steering businesses, sooner rather than later.

The most valuable skills are the ability to work across hierarchies and be strong in influencing, regardless of authority. These should be coupled with being able to communicate complex topics in an easy-to-assimilate manner. Pratyush values people who can bring their true selves to work, master humility, and be transparent and open to learning.

We asked if Covid had impacted his company and how they worked. Pratyush discloses that just like many other great companies out there, they learned and managed to operate well across teams to provide the best experience for their customers. He adds, after some test-and-learn time and thorough consideration, Zalando has installed a flexible hybrid working model where they envision around 40% of working time in the office and 60% remotely to strike a good balance. As there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach within this framework, the teams can decide for themselves what works best for them to accomplish their team mission and create value for customers.

Pratyush states that the biggest innovation in his profession has been harnessing the power of data analytics, and creating data-driven and unbiased outcomes to increase efficiency and focus on what matters (Pareto principle). He sees executive leaders increasingly turning to their governance teams to help them navigate the business as the world faces an environment of unprecedented uncertainty exacerbated by the pandemic and geopolitical conflict. In such times, active management of risk equips organizations to take a measured response that protects assets and human capital, boosts competitive advantage, and captures opportunity.

Pratyush believes that a common misconception about his profession is that compliance and risk are tick-in-the-box functions and there is no dynamism in the daily work.

He has recently read Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and is now reading My Life in Full by Indra Nooyi. Pratyush enjoys podcasts and is currently listening to Coaching Real Leaders by HBR.

His engaging last words of advice to those who are aspiring to achieve in this field are “Be patient with your growth, it all works out in the end if you are committed, focused, and maintain solid determination.”

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